Dogs have developed physical gestures, vocalizations, and facial expressions as their mode of communication. For instance, your dog may wink at you, causing you to wonder why your dog winks.
Dogs wink for various reasons. Every culture assigns a different meaning to why dogs wink, such as agreeing with you or letting you know they’ll keep your secret. If you enjoy teaching your dog to do tricks, you can even teach your dog to wink on demand. However, winking can also be a sign of a medical issue.
This article will explore the various reasons dogs wink, including trick training and medical abnormalities. Read on if you wish to gain insight into this behavior.
Why Is My Dog Winking at Me?
As pet parents, we are guilty of assigning human reasons to explain dog behavior. However, our dogs are not small humans — your dog has a unique style of communication.
When it comes to winking, it isn’t crazy to believe your dog is saying, “I got your back” or “Don’t worry, I won’t spill the beans.” After all, for humans, a wink means your dog is a confidant. But is this why your dog is winking?
Most likely, the answer is no, but you and your dog have a unique connection, so it shouldn’t be difficult to discern what they are saying.
As we begin to explore why a dog winks, let us first delve into how essential eyelids are.
The Eyelids of a Dog
The structure of a dog’s eye is somewhat like ours, with a few differences. First and foremost, the eyelid, which moves when winking or blinking, prevents injury to the eye and works to retain the moisture (source).
Just about all dog breeds have three eyelids. The eyelids serve the same purpose in dogs as in humans, to protect and retain moisture. The two outer eyelids work as a team when the dog blinks. When the lids meet, they function like windshield wipers keeping out debris and sealing in moisture.
What If My Puppy Has Dry Eyes?
As discussed above, your dog’s eyes could be dry from the lids not meeting, a condition called Lagophthalmos. This condition keeps the eye from retaining moisture and opens the eye up to trauma.
Just as in humans, moisture in the eye is essential to eye health. If consistently dry, medical conditions may develop over time. Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe moisture drops, which should alleviate further issues.
Dry eyes are only one of many reasons your dog may wink at you — irritation can range from mild to severe.
Perhaps they got hair or dust in their eyes or certain chemicals, such as the air fresheners we freely spray about the house, manage to find your dog’s eye.
Another reason is injury. Watch your dog closely for signs the eye sustained an injury such as being poked or, worse, scratched. If you’ve been to the dog park or have more than one puppy — I have four — they may play rough. During rough play, your dog may get a claw to the eye.
Consult your vet if your dog winks for any of the above conditions, including rubbing the eye with their paw, furniture, or anything else they can get near their face. Your veterinarian is the only one you can trust to diagnose and treat your dog’s eyes.
Other Serious Conditions that May Cause Winking
There are many other reasons your dog may wink. Below are a few conditions that are known as possible causes for winking.
Your dog may have Canine Blepharospasm in which the eyelid spasms, making it appear your dog is winking. Your dog may look as if they are winking, but, in actuality, the eyelid is twitching or doing a fast wink.
Ectropion is commonly found in many breeds, such as bloodhounds and Great Danes. It is prevalent in brachycephalic dog breeds such as pugs and bulldogs.
Ectropion is a condition where the eyelid edge is turned out and will typically have a large notch or crack. Ectropion causes the eyelids to catch and flip, exposing the eye to irritation, bacteria, and infection.
If allowed to continue, conditions such as scarring, abnormal coloring, sores, which take a long time to heal, may occur. This condition requires surgery to fix the problem. Take your dog to your vet for treatment — you don’t want to risk their eyesight.
Eyelash abnormalities include too many eyelashes — dogs have a certain number of lashes at birth — or their eyelashes bed in the wrong position. Either of these issues can cause the eyes to water, cause blood vessels to grow in the cornea, and make scars to heal slower than expected.
The extra eyelashes are often fine hairs. While the lashes may be an issue, they do not usually cause problems. However, lashes that are in the wrong position can cause your dog immense pain. There have been dogs where the eyelashes stick out of the back of the eyelid — again, very painful.
A corneal ulcer begins with a traumatic injury to the eye — such as a deep scratch — surface scratches, or canine dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca).
Any injury to the eye is uncomfortable, which may cause your dog to rub their eye continuously. The rubbing leads to a lack of protection (corneal epithelial cells) for the front of the eye and the development of one or more corneal ulcers.
Corneal Ulcers are excruciating. You may notice a gunky discharge coming from the eye, your dog squinting or winking, and the eye may appear red.
If left untreated, corneal ulcers could lead to developing an infection. The eye may become cloudy with possible loss of vision and may even rupture.
If you suspect your dog has a corneal ulcer, bring them immediately to the vet for diagnosis and treatment (source).
Dogs are smart and have learned to use various facial expressions to communicate their needs and wants. Your dog’s behaviors and expressions communicate meanings that are very different from your own. However, dogs and humans have a commonality in that we are all unique.
Take time to learn your dog’s communication style. It is not as impossible as you may think and could lead you both to less stress.
Winking and Blinking
Winking and blinking are considered submissive behavior. It will begin as a staring contest meant to challenge the pack leader. Hold fast and wait for your dog to break eye contact first.
Once your dog has looked away, they may wink. Winking is a gesture of goodwill. Through this gesture, your dog acknowledges you as the head of the pack without losing face.
Seeking Your Attention
Your dog may have blinked in the past, and you reacted positively, with lots of attention. Winking is adorable. Well, your dog has learned that if they wink, they will receive your very desirable attention.
As with any attention-seeking behavior, don’t reward it even if winking is ever so adorable. It will become a habit very quickly and very probably begin to be an annoyance.
Now for Some Fun
While it may be somewhat arbitrary when your dog winks, you can teach them to wink on-demand, just shaking paws.
In an article in Modern Dog Magazine, Dr. Caroline Coile was asked if a dog could be taught to wink. In the article, she said it was possible through classical conditioning — think Pavlov’s dogs (source).
First, choose a word to use. Next, say the word while you touch your dog’s whiskers on the side with the eye you want them to blink and give your dog a yummy treat. Keep practicing until your dog winks when you say the word and before you touch their whiskers.
Teaching your dog tricks will keep his brain sharp, and they will love pleasing you.
Dogs wink involuntarily for various reasons. The winking eye may have experienced a trauma or injury. There are also structural issues with the lids and eyelashes, all described above. Winking is a type of facial expression and one where your dog may have learned winking gets your attention.
Teaching your dog to wink is a fun trick that will earn you many pats on the back and jealous stares. Of course, it is not difficult if you follow the theory of classical conditioning.
One thing is sure, as long as your dog is not winking from a serious medical condition, it is adorable!